Samantha Max

Samantha Max covers criminal justice for WPLN and joins the newroom through the Report for America program. This is her second year with Report for America: She spent her first year in Macon, Ga., covering health and inequity for The Telegraph and 

Previously, she was an investigative reporting intern for the Medill Justice Project and a bilingual multimedia news intern at Hoy, Chicago Tribune’s Spanish-language daily. She returned to her hometown of Baltimore in 2015 and again in 2016 to work as a newsroom intern for NPR-affiliate WYPR.



The state of Tennessee will not execute Pervis Payne next month, as planned.

Gov. Bill Lee announced Friday that he is a postponing Payne’s execution until April of next year, because of COVID-19. Riverbend Maximum Security Facility, where executions take place, has been closed to the public since March.

Courtesy of the Innocence Project


Nov. 4 is the first day to file legislation in the Tennessee General Assembly for the upcoming session, and the state’s Black Caucus has already submitted the first House bill.

The proposed measure (HB 1) would provide one more chance at life for people who have been sentenced to death and lost all their appeals. And it would allow the courts to overturn someone’s death sentence if he or she is intellectually disabled.

Courtesy Tennessee Department of Correction


A new national report on racial disparities in the death penalty explores two high-profile cases that are winding their way through the courts here in Tennessee. The analysis, published Tuesday by the Death Penalty Information Center, highlights the ways Black people are more likely to be discriminated against at every step — from arrest to jury selection to execution.



Eyeglasses. A bloody tampon. A towel. A knife. These are just a few of the items investigators found in Charisse Christopher’s kitchen after she and her daughter were stabbed to death in her Shelby County apartment in 1987. But Pervis Payne’s trial attorney never had them tested for DNA.

At a hearing Tuesday in Payne’s death penalty case, prosecutors and defense lawyers spent six hours debating whether to test crime scene evidence for DNA.


A Tennessee man who is scheduled for execution this December is asking the state to give him one more chance to prove his innocence.


Pervis Payne was sentenced to death in 1988 for stabbing to death a woman and her daughter and wounding her son. But he thinks DNA testing could clear his name.

Chas Sisk (WPLN/File)


Advocates filed an emergency lawsuit in Tennessee this morning, urging the courts to allow women to get abortions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amid mounting pressure from medical professionals and local leaders, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has ordered residents to stay home unless it's essential.

Lee said during a coronavirus press briefing Thursday afternoon that he decided to issue a new executive order after data revealed that movement around the state has been on the rise in recent days, even after he issued a less strict "Safer at Home" order last month.

Some Tennessee activists, business leaders and government officials say it feels like the state is ready for meaningful criminal justice reform. At a conference organized by a prison ministry group Wednesday, advocates discussed challenges and solutions to the hot-button issue.

But other reformers worry those leading the conversation won't go far enough.

There’s a new push to restore voting rights to felons in Tennessee. Several states, including Florida and New York, have recently expanded enfranchisement to convicted felons.

Local politicians and activists say felon enfranchisement is an especially important issue in Tennessee.

Some kids dream of going to the moon. But from the time he was in eighth grade, Bill Baker knew he wanted to help build the rockets that would send people there.